Tackling School Enrollment Growth with Strategy Engine

In April, we began working with the Los Altos School District (LASD) on a project to tackle the district’s growing enrollment population.  Part of our mandate is to help the LASD improve community engagement, enabling a wider segment of the population to explore options and reach consensus to solve these problems.  With $150 million in bond money on the table, the district felt it was critical to get broad input into the decision process from the community.

“We want to make sure we have a representative sample of our community,” Superintendent Jeff Baier told the Los Altos Town Crier. “We want to tease out new ideas and reactions to what is being presented. Then through conversations, new opinions can be formed and eventually consensus.”

On April 22, the Conteneo team, led by Laura Richardson, and the Los Altos School district kicked off LosAltosCommunityMeetingthe project with a community meeting to begin the necessary work to complete the “framing” of the problem for the next phase of the project where 100s of Los Altos residents will participate in structured online discussions using Conteneo’s Strategy Engine to find common ground regarding the district’s options for tackling the enrollment growth issue.

More than 100 Los Alto School District parents, teachers, administrators and interested residents attended he “open to all” public meeting where they were able to share their ideas, thoughts and concerns on how to handle the growing enrollment. The Conteneo facilitation team used the collaborative framework called Speed Boat to structure the conversations with the goal of uncovering where people were confused and where they needed facts.

“The Speed Boat collaboration framework may look a little simple at first,” said Laura Richardson, vice president of sales at Conteneo,”but it’s an effective way to solicit new ideas from people who might not normally give feedback at public meetings. Public meetings might feel like open mic night, and it can be incredibly difficult to get information from everyone. The few people who actually get a chance to talk are an incredibly small percentage of the community.”

Richardson continued,  “While this input is important, it is not sufficient.  LASD really wanted to find a way to include citizens who are unable to attend public meetings.  By going online, we can give people an opportunity to express their ideas even if the only time they can do so is at 6:30 am in the morning.”

When the online Strategy Engine forums begin, participants will be seeking to find common ground, exploring three options around the enrollment growth issue, including one created from the actions and drawbacks gleaned from the public meeting.  For more information regarding the engagement or Strategy Engine, contact us at info@conteneo.co.


Innovation Games as Story Listening

I recently completed an unusually fun project: Paul Mantey from NetApp invited me, and my colleague and Certified Collaboration Architect John Heintz from Gist Labs, to make a series of short, educational films for the NetApp sales team. John covered Agile and DevOps, Paul presented NetApp’s completely unique value proposition for Agile DevOps, and Paul and I discussed how NetApp’s Impact Discovery Workshops, which are powered by Innovation Games® collaboration frameworks, radically change the sales process. It was a lot of fun hanging out in the NetApp film studios–Green screens! Super cool video gear! “On Air” signs!

NetApp’s Cathie Staley moderated and helped produce our sessions. In one session, Cathie interviewed Paul and myself on the art of story telling in sales. Our focus was on helping strategic account managers use stories to connect NetApp value propositions and market differentiating features to customer needs. And I loved this session because it allowed Paul and myself to make a full-circle link between the storytelling that shares value propositions in a compelling way and the story listening that is the foundation of the Innovation Games® collaboration frameworks.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Beware PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy

Two of my favorite negative salesperson stereotypes are PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy. PowerPoint Paula blows into your office, demands an overhead projector, and then proceeds to bore you to tears with her carefully rehearsed slide deck. Her carefully rehearsed stories (cue customer story 3 on slide 7) is what I call a “show up and throw up”. Paula shows up, throws up slides — and you simply want to vomit.

The What and Why? Guy is at the other end of the spectrum. He comes into the office with a notebook, a pen and a set of questions that always seem to end in Why: “What do you need? Why?” or “What are your strategic priorities? Why?” or “What can we improve? Why?” At best, the What and Why Guy is sincere (albeit creepily sincere). At worst, the What and Why Guy is merely interrogating you in an effort to close a deal.

In stark contrast to this are the approaches that Paul Mantey is pioneering at NetApp and Kevin Parker is taking at Serena.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Changing Complex Sales Through Story Listening

A NetApp Impact Discovery Workshop is a structured workshop in which NetApp customers play tailored Innovation Games® collaboration frameworks to identify high impact business opportunities. In the process, the NetApp account team and NetApp partner sales and service teams gain a deep and thorough knowledge of customer needs.

The key is that these workshops are designed to allow customers to tell their stories. And when customers are telling stories, NetApp is learning what is really needed to serve them.

For example, in one workshop NetApp customers played Speed Boat to identify the anchors that would prevent them from rapidly deploying a new production system. By asking customers to draw their own boat, describe their destination, and then identify the anchors that might prevent them from moving quickly, NetApp was able to create an environment that allowed customers to tap into their true goals. By simply asking customers to share stories about their anchors, NetApp was able to identify a significant number of opportunities.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Creating Alignment on Priorities Through Knowsy®

Every salesperson involved in a complex sale will tell you that to close a complex sale you must do at least two things: You must determine the priorities of each person, and you must create alignment on a shared set of priorities that will drive the sale. While most successful salespeople go about this process a bit more effectively than the “What and Why? Guy”, the reality is that determining decison-maker priorities in a complex sale is not all that much fun. Until now.

The Social IT Game is Serena’s game to identify IT buyer priorities in a complex sale. Powered by the our Alignment Engine (aka the Knowsy® platform), The Social IT Game turns the act of identifying and understanding the degree of alignment that exists within a team with a super fun game. And once a salesperson has a group of decision makers talking with each other about their shared priorities, they know that a deal is in the making. Check out Kevin Parker’s video explaining this game.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Becoming a Better Story Listener

Everyone who has taken a Certified Collaboration Architect course featuring Innovation Games® from one of our qualified instructors  learns that one of the most important aspects of an Innovation Game® is the way that the collaboration framework induces the participants to tell stories while participating. More precisely, we strive to teach Facilitators how to induce stories during the forums, we discuss how Observers should be listening to stories, and we even lightly explore what kinds of stories each forum is likely to produce.

And while there are a lot of articles and books about becoming a better story teller, to build truly innovative products and services, you need to become a better story listener. Here are some suggestions on how to improve your story listening skills.
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  • Match the collaboration framework that you’re using to the stories you want to hear. If you want stories that explain relationships, consider Spider Web. If you want stories of an uninhibited future, or stories that capture the passions of your customers, consider Product Box. Stories of how adversity was overcome can be motivated by Remember the Future.
  • Listen for stereotypic story structures. Here are some common structures: I need (feature or capability) {so that, in order to, because} I want to accomplish (goal). My friends in the Agile community will recognize this as the User Story format, which is a great way to capture and communicate requirements. The key difference, however, is that in this post a Product Owner isn’t just sitting down and generating a lot of user stories. Instead, the user stories are generated directly by your customers through game play.
  • Let the rules of the framework you’re playing help you draw out stories from your players. Consider a common scenario: Branden, a Product Manager for a car company, is playing several online Buy a Feature collaboration frameworks with customers to help them prioritize their product backlog. During one forum, Branden notices that Susanne has made a significant bid on a new feature which allows the car to be configured so that it can automatically send signals to devices like garage doors to open them when the car is within a preconfigured distance of a specified location. This bid positions Brendan to learn more about the reasons this feature is so important and the conditions or requirements of acceptance by using the structure of the framework to get the stories that drive requirements.

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Branden: Susanne, you’ve made a substantial bid on the automatic arrival feature .What can you say to the other player’s to convince to join you?
Susanne: C’mon everyone — get the automatic arrival. It’s cool.
Ming: Susanne, don’t put your money there — buy the MPG monitor instead. We all need to save gas.
Satish: I agree — gas savings are really important.
(Brendan, whispering to Susanne): It looks like the other players are interested in saving gas. You’re going to have to work a bit harder to convince them.
Susanne: I agree that saving gas is important.
Susanne: But I live a kinda bad neighborhood so I installed an alarm system. Sometimes I forget to turn it off properly when I get home, so we get false alarms. If my car could somehow tell my home when I’ve arrived, I’d feel safer.

The important point is that it was the rules of the framework that motivated Susanne to tell a mini story on why a feature was important to her. This information can be used in a number of ways: determining the requirements of home alarm system interactions, improving marketing messages, developing more compelling personas, building patent fences around novel technologies, and so forth.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Making Your Move

While the popular press is motivating you to tell better stories, we think you might find that listening creates even better results. What’s your take? Let us know at info@conteneo.co.

Adobe: Serious Games for Strategic Planning and Customer Experience

Who hasn’t shuddered when you get the email about required attendance at an all-day strategy meeting? In common parlance that translates to 8 hours trapped in a conference room with PowerPoint, coffee and catered lunches—if you’re lucky. Strategy meetings don’t have to be death by PowerPoint, though. They can be engaging, profitable and energizing—especially, if the participants are actively involved. Our recent experience producing a two-day strategic planning meeting for Adobe Systems’ Globalization team is proof of that day-long meetings don’t have to be boring.

Three Adobe team members—Francis Tsang, Senior Director of Globalization; Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Localization; and Janice Campbell, Sr. International Program Manager 2 – recently shared with us their perspectives on how and why using collaborative games (i.e. collaboration frameworks) was crucial to the event’s success.

Why did you decide to work with Conteneo for your strategy meeting?

Spider Web and Speed Boat games on the wall during Adobe's Globabalization Team's Strategy meeting.
Spider Web and Speed Boat games on the wall during Adobe’s Globabalization Team’s Strategy meeting.

Janice: We had read Luke’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products through Collaborative Play, in our Globalization Book Club, and decided to find a way to “put into play” our learnings from it. Much to our delight, Luke was already working with some product teams at Adobe. What if Luke could help us drive the creation of our 2012 localization roadmap and three-year strategy?

Can you tell us a little bit about the strategy meeting and how you used collaborative games?

Francis: It was a two-day meeting, with 40 participants, focusing on Adobe’s Localization Strategy. We used the games [collaboration frameworks] to help us do short-term and long-range planning around localization and long-range infrastructure needs—not only which languages and problems we may face in our globalization efforts, but also what kind of new localization experiences we want for our end users.

Who attended?

Janice: Along with members of our Globalization team, we invited internal stakeholders closest to the international customer. They represented CSO, ecommerce, product marketing, field marketing, developer relations and CHL, and regions such as APAC, EMEA and LATAM. The event took place during two full days at the end of August.

Sometimes people are concerned about the concept of serious games / collaborative play and whether the techniques can really be used to do “real work”? Did you have any reservations?

Francis: To be honest, I was kind of skeptical in the beginning—how can we do this with 40 people over two days, but after the two days, I found the experience extremely useful. It was much more useful than a cut-and-dry strategy planning session with PowerPoint. The [collaboration frameworks] force you to come down from a conceptual level to an experiential level.

We were a little bit nervous before the event, because we had never experienced this approach. We had also invited senior managers from other teams, and they wouldn’t have shown much patience if things had gone wrong. We took a risk, but it definitely paid off. The energy level during the all event was high. We addressed very serious problems. Using the Innovation Games collaboration frameworks helped us change our perspective on these problems and generate more creative solutions

What made the event a success?

Francis: Putting 40 people together for two days is a huge commitment of time for a company. It’s hard to keep people engaged during 16 hours of strategy planning. Thanks to Conteneo, 90 percent were in the meeting the entire time. With traditional presentations, you would lose half the people, but the techniques kept the participants engaged.

Janice: We found that participants built better relationships with each other and communication channels opened up. We gained valuable insight into how an international customer interacts with our products — from the web to software purchase/download to documentation. Using the collaboration frameworks/games was a fun way of extracting serious ideas and it allowed people to be more creative and free in their thinking; they were less fearful of peer pressure in vocalizing their ideas.

Three games of Prune the Product during Adobe Systems' Globalization Strategy meeting.
Three games of Prune the Product during Adobe Systems’ Globalization Strategy meeting.

Which collaboration framework played during the event had the most impact? Why?

Francis: While we used many during the two days, three Innovation Games stand out in my mind: Prune the Product Tree, Speed Boat and Buy a Feature.

Prune the Product Tree, for example, forced us to think about the sequence of events. It helped us understand benefits and costs. Speed Boat is always good to help understand what is slowing you down. Planning is often a one-way street, but the frameworks counteract that. The “game” play forces you to visualize the possible anchors. The metaphor helps you understand the big picture/visualize the problem. The most revealing aspect of Buy a Feature was learning what assumptions play a part in ranking options. Specifically, it lets you see what a participant’s self-imposed limitations are.

What really stood out for me, though, is that the act of using these Innovation Games gave us insight into how different people look at problems, the different kinds of thought processes in play. We saw this thanks to the debrief process; the act of presenting the results to the larger group meant other participants got to see how others thought. With other methods, it’s hard to get to the true story.

The Show & Tell collaboration framework helped create a friendly, playful mood, while helping us highlight critical issues in the way we localize our products. After the event, many participants still referred to the framework to justify more investments in certain areas. The Prune the Product Tree framework is a close second for me as it generated some very innovative ideas.

Janice: Stories from the field, in the form of the Show & Tell. While often poignant or funny, the “game” play helped us experience first hand the hoops international customers sometimes have to jump through when using our products.

Were there any unexpected benefits?

Francis: The game mechanism helped us look at strategy from a different perspective. We gained unique insight. For example, in strategy, you need to look at what could happen, what would happen. The collaboration frameworks helped us visualize these scenarios; they helped us model the future.

Jean-Francois: The game-oriented approach really helped build stronger relationships between all our participants. People flew in from around the world to attend the event and didn’t always know each other. Games are an effective way for people to quickly “gel” together, collaborate and deliver great ideas.

To learn more about Adobe’s Globalization Strategy meeting, check out Janice’s blog post, “Strategy Through Games” and Luke Hohmann’s blog post, “The International Appeal of Visual Collaboration Games”.